The European Commission (EC) is working with 27 of the world's leading ICT companies and associations to measure the carbon footprint they generate from the production, transport and sales of ICT goods and services.
The EC is concerned that while internet use, in particular, is growing rapidly, the emissions generated from online activity can vary considerably depending on the efficiency of operations and the type of energy used. As a result, estimates of emissions, particularly from the industry as a whole, vary significantly.
Several international standardisation organisations and industry bodies have established a variety of methods to quantify the ICT sector's footprint and in a study published last Monday, the EC says that 10 of the measurement tools and standards pilot-tested by the organisations are comparable.
The pilot-testing involved 18 tests of 10 international standards from bodies such as ITU (International Telecommunication Unit) and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), GHG Protocol and ISO. The tests were carried out by major IT companies, including the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, BT, Cisco, HP, Intel, NEC, Nokia, Orange, SAP and Telecom Italia, among others.
The next step is to get the ICT companies to implement the various methodologies on a daily basis. The Commission will be consulting with stakeholders and the industry on how best to achieve this. The ultimate aim is to have a common measurement framework in order to get a clearer picture, and eventually a reduction, of industry CO2 emissions.
Review: According to the EC, ICT products and services are responsible for 8-10% of the EU’s electricity consumption and up to 4% of its carbon emissions. So getting a clear measure of the environmental impact of the ICT industry is essential in helping manage energy resources.
It’s certainly true that there are a variety of estimates of ICT’s carbon impact. The global figure for carbon emissions from ICT is usually given as 3-4%, but I’ve never seen a methodology for how that’s calculated. In any case, it’s often cited as a universal standard, when it’s clear that the impact will vary between countries depending on development, industrialisation, economic focus, etc.
Let’s hope the EC succeeds in its aim. The danger is that the organisation will simply add another methodology to those that already exist. Hopefully, given that the 10 methods piloted are comparable, what emerges from the EC’s efforts will be something that the other organisations can buy in to, giving us a universal (or at least Europe-wide) solution.